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Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “France”

Is language a prostitute queen?

“Nothing is so easy as to deceive one’s self when one does not lack wit and is familiar with all the niceties of language. Language is a prostitute queen who descends and rises to all roles. Disguises herself, arrays herself in fine apparel, hides her head and effaces herself; an advocate who has an answer for everything, who has always foreseen everything, and who assumes a thousand forms in order to be right. The most honorable of men is he who thinks best and acts best, but the most powerful is he who is best able to talk and write” – George Sand, in “Indiana”

A character in a TV show who was talking about abuse said that scars and bruises heal, but abusive words said to another person last forever. As soon as she said it, I thought of this passage in George Sand’s 1832 novel Indiana. It was written when sentiments in France were in a state of flux between being ruled by a hereditary monarch or a constitutional monarch. The debate was endless, but veiled somewhat behind the eloquence of well-practiced aristocratic conversations that were an art form well-outside the scope of today’s conversations at dinner and formal affairs.

Yet, as a writer, I am disturbed by the passage. Many people say that actions speak louder than words. There is truth in that, I think. But many people also believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. Over time, perhaps, though not on a battlefield.

Today, as we hear a lot of words from both sides of the political spectrum, we’re hearing a lot about biased news and fake news, so it becomes harder and harder to tell what the truth of any matter is. If language is, or can be used as a prostitute queen, people are being quite often swayed these days by more words than actions. Yet, I take issue with the suggestion that those of us who write are somehow in league with Voldemort–or the devil of your choice–and cannot be trusted.

I don’t think words are forever as the TV actress said on the show, but in the context of the scene, that idea made sense. Most words are, I think, forgotten. Or, their importance dims with time as people hear fresh words that make more sense, that seem more true to them, that they can prove by doing a little soul searching or fact checking.

Yet, I think that with times as they are now, a lot of people would agree with George Sand’s author’s comment in her novel. Personally, I don’t think the words–or language itself–are at fault. The people who use words badly, who have thinly veiled agendas, who seldom bother with the truth, who replace facts with opinions and/or slick writing–they are the ones making us distrust words while giving those words more power over us than they actually have.




Too many calamities to keep up with: Nice, France and other sorrows

This Wikipedia photo shows the celebrated Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France on a good day. Today is not that day.


Today, we mourn more dead and injured. Today, amid reports that police allowed the driver of the truck to park on “The Prom” for nine hours before the attack because he said he was delivering ice cream, we talk about how and why it happened.

When new details are not available, news sites play and replay the video footage of the crime scene while experts and others endlessly debate the issues surrounding these attacks: national policy, ISIS, terrorism, religion, race, and future security measures. Most of this coverage brings little comfort or wisdom. It doesn’t bring back the dead or ensure there won’t be more dead somewhere else tomorrow or next week with more headlines like this:


Today we hear the reactions of national leaders and other famous people. Such words are expected and perhaps in some cases they show the true feelings of the individuals rather than a speech writer’s well-crafted sound bite. We hear these words with the same more-of-the-same reactions we’re starting to have as we view the daily carnage and the daily onslaught of politicized opinions.

Last year, I maintained a WordPress blog called “Calamities of the Heart” because I felt a need to say something about the insane events that flow like rivers of fire through the news. I couldn’t keep up. Like many others, I had no words because all the words of shock about angry people killing co-workers, school shootings, racially motivated violence, and terrorism attacks had already been used up. One might say that 9/11 used up every word we had. If I were a national leader forced by duty and/or compassion to comment on the carnage created by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, I’m afraid I would remain mute because the used-up words from previous atrocities have become so cliche that they almost discount the horror and grief of the dead and injured on the scene.

I’m not the first one to ask if the news is desensitizing us to the news. If so, then that may be the greatest calamity. Our struggle here is perhaps not in finding new words or perfect answers, but in realizing that we’re all part of these events whether we live close up to them or far away. The human condition today is often an ugly mess that requires compassionate empathy from all of us even though we don’t really know what to say. We need to stop playing Pokemon Go and look at it, feel it, hear it and take it in before our remaining humanity deserts us. We owe that do both the dead and ourselves.





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